YA Mysteries: 5 W’s and an H — Why?

a4ec16b42fe76fc9b6cbe9ae7a21822fI am literally just back from my first time attending Bouchercon, the nation’s largest conference of mystery writers, readers, and fans. It was a fantastic experience — plenty of Sisters (and Brothers) in Crime on hand, a crowd of authors of all levels of experience, and fans carrying mystery books with stars in their eyes. (Nope, I didn’t see anyone carrying a “tablet” the same way …) What the actual number of people was, I’m not sure, but my guess is about 500, maybe more. Four days of talking mysteries! Four days of people around you knowing the titles and authors you do, or else eager to learn more about the ones new to them. Four days of … learning from each other and from some of the best mystery writers of our time.

So, I guess I’ve just answered, “Why go to a mystery conference?” (Comments are welcome, of course!)

Meanwhile, back to the “Why” of young adult mysteries. And I have four “why” questions to mention.

1. Why is there a category called YA? My best answer: Librarians in particular, as well as teachers and parents, saw a need for books to hand to curious readers from 12 to 18 that provided the complexity of a “good read” but also made room for the emotions of the teen years and particularly spoke to the hard issues of those years … without the freight of adult issues, for the most part. YA as a category developed in the last 65 years; YA mysteries blossomed as a category in the past five, in particular. (For more on this, see YALSA, the relevant branch of the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/aboutyalsa/history/briefhistory.)

2. Why do authors write YA mysteries? The panel where I spoke, moderated by Anthony-nominated author Joelle Charbonneau, included Harlan Coben, who began a YA line when he realized he’d created a nephew, Mickey, to his usual protagonist Myron Bolitar — and was intrigued with what might happen specifically to Mickey. He also thought it would be fun to write. And he has four kids, and felt like writing something specifically for them. The rest of us on the panel — Cara Brookins, Chris Grabenstein, Lea Wait, Charles Benoit, and me — had variations on those reasons. Plus, we all love mysteries. Reading them, writing them: It fits.

3. Why do readers pick up YA mysteries? (a) Because they like mysteries. Period. (b) Okay, maybe because they want to read about people their own age and they are not yet 20 years old. (Or to read about people who are the age they still feel inside sometimes.) And (c) (VERY IMPORTANT) — many adults enjoy YA for the rediscovery of what it’s like to step into a mystery without all the experience that the adult years pile onto us. Authors Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, and Jennifer McMahon, in an earlier panel, noted that a “child narrator” rarely knows as much as an adult narrator — and we adult readers bring the other half of the knowledge to the story, so the suspense can build, in part, because we can see or guess at what a younger protagonist can’t yet realize lies ahead.

4. (Writing skills version) YA editor Ellen Larson, on hand to receive “pitches” from authors who’d like to add their books to her new line at The Poisoned Pencil, reminded the newbies in her group: It’s not a mystery unless there’s a strong and convincing motive for the threatening and/or murdering taking place in the story. The WHY has to be there!  I could write a whole post on just this (so could Ellen, I’m sure!) but will hold that for another time.

Why did you pick up a YA mystery? (And when and where did you read it? What age were you?) If you are writing one, why are you writing it?

I’m looking forward to your comments.

PS — to see more posts from Sisters in Crime New England, click into the entire blog here: https://sincne.wordpress.com

About bethkanellbooks

My life is always a three-strand braid: love for Vermont, love of reading, and the need to write (and write better and better). Come visit and chat at any of my blogs and posts -- there's a big wonderful world of writing and reading, and we're in it together.
This entry was posted in Beth Kanell, SinCNE, Writing, Young Adult and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to YA Mysteries: 5 W’s and an H — Why?

  1. Myra King says:

    Thanks to you, I definitely know what category my novel is now. Because of my protagonist’s age (14 – sort of a cusp between YA and MG) I wasn’t quite sure.

    So, the category for my novel is YA, the genre, mystery – As you’ve said, YA is not a genre. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and it’s been so helpful.

    Especially illuminating was: why it works for adults to write YA etc. We can see where the characters are heading (and steer the outcome). But of course we write it in their voice of limited experience – adding to the freshness, conflict, authenticity and reading enjoyment of the novel for all ages, as you also pointed out.
    We can live, or re-live it according to our age!
    What will happen? Where will it go? Will our characters be changed by the end? Or, more correctly, by the journey? Ah, the writers’ challenge…

    Pleased you had such a great time at Bouchecon. Wish I could have been there. But it’s a long way from Australia! Thanks again for such a top blog.

  2. Great to hear from you, Myra. Definitely, it’s the way we all pool our experience and thinking that makes these writerly conferences and blogs “work” for us. I’m excited about your novel, and will be looking for it in publication someday. Wishing you much joy in the journey with it.

  3. Beth, what a great YA panel at Bouchercon–I hope we do as well at Crime Bake! And I learned a lot about this exploding field–looking forward to reading more YA, and passing it on to my favorite YA readers.

    • Julie, I learned a lot, too — and I’m convinced you and I and the other SinC authors on hand will use this well. Good results are coming! Crime Bake (as well as our authorly projects) is sure to be benefit from all this fresh joy and strength. Great to brainstorm with you in Albany, NY. Onward!

  4. Hi Beth — Thanks for the shout-out. You were a font of wisdom yourself. Your panel was great, and I was so pleased to hear you calling for passion in writing, as well as the importance of the exploration of the world around us. Thank you for that even more. Sidenote: at the orientation session, they said there were 1,200 registered participants.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s